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'Terra Nova' premiere: Dinosaurs rule! The future is dying!

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At this point, the fact that Terra Nova is big, expensive, and was much-delayed in its premiere is as much a part of the narrative of the show as the series itself. The two-hour premiere was a dinosaur throwback to ancient TV action shows; it just happened to co-star dinosaurs.

With credits listing more executive producers than main characters in the show itself, Terra Nova was a much fussed-over and tweaked production. Starting with Steven Spielberg and moving on through veterans of 24, The West Wing, Medium, and Star Trek, Terra Nova has a deep bench of behind-the-scenes talent, but did the team construct a show sturdy enough to withstand scrutiny whenever those eye-candy dinos, the Slashers and the Carnos, aren’t onscreen?

Yes. Sort of. A rollicking, old-fashioned action-adventure sci-fantasy family saga, Terra Nova strove mightily to offer something for everyone. You’ve got your beleaguered family, headed up by cop Jim (Jason O’Mara) his doctor-wife Elisabeth (Shelley Conn) and their three kids. They were living in a rotting, poisonous planet Earth of 2149 until they managed to get aboard a ship that transported them back 80 million years or so via a handy-dandy “time fracture.” There, they come upon the sort of compound that Lost lost: a group of displaced settlers trying to build “a new civilization.” That phrase was uttered by Commander Nathanial Taylor (a pumped-up in every sense Stephen Lang), a doughty mixture of idealist and realist, who’s already lost a son somewhere out there in the jungle surrounding the Terra Nova camp. 

You could feel the strain Terra Nova was under to make this show appeal to as many demos as possible, which meant spending an awful lot of time with Jim and Elisabeth’s rebellious teen son, who joins up with a bunch of rebellious teens who live a nearly communal, parent-lite existence, make moonshine in the backwoods, swim with a minimum of clothes, and get in the trouble that culminated in the premiere’s big action set-piece: A rescue mission by all of the chief characters to rescue the kids when Slashers start flicking their razor-sharp tails around the trapped adolescents.

As if this wasn’t enough, the show had to introduce its “mythology” aspect, because — well, because you can’t have a contemporary sci-fi show without a mythology to attract the cult audience that will help blog and tweet this thing into higher ratings. Thus, the “Sixers” — fugitives from the sixth “pilgrimage” (that is, the sixth trip from future-dying-Earth) who are hostile for reasons we and Commander Taylor have not yet figured out.

The ideas behind Terra Nova have been cobbled together from Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, Samuel R. Delany’s Dhalgren, and various current crises in our own world, both natural and political-policy disasters. Taylor said future civilization was ruined by “our baser instincts” and greed, that “we blew it, we destroyed our home” but “we have been entrusted with a second chance.”

That is, if the Terra Nova campers can figure out why the Sixers are attacking them (and they carry the implication that Taylor’s missing son may be among their number — more vexed family strife!), and whether there’s a big enough TV audience to be drawn away from ABC’s dinosaurs such as Nancy Grace and David Arquette thundering across the Earth on Dancing With the Stars. Giving teenagers futuristic machine guns in Terra Nova‘s premiere and having them shoot impressively convincing-looking dinosaurs was a shrewd step in the right direction, commercially if not artistically speaking.

What do you think? Seen enough in all this that might make you keep watching to see how deep or how silly Terra Nova may become?

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